Is Aluminum Recyclable

Is Aluminum Foil Recyclable? - How to Recycle Foil Correctly

As much as this material aluminum foil serves multiple useful purposes, the question eco-conscious consumers are asking is, “is aluminum foil recyclable?” The short answer is yes; you can recycle aluminum foil. However, the how is not quite as straightforward, and in this article, we’ll answer this question in more detail to address your concerns. 

What is Aluminum Foil And How Is It Used?

Aluminum foil is a thin, paper-like sheet of aluminum. Manufacturers produce it through a rolling method from the metal. These sheets are around 0.006mm to 0.2 mm in thickness.

It is pliable and flexible and serves various purposes, from wrapping edible items to lining baking trays for an easy wash. Apart from the regular plain foils, manufacturers also make containers from aluminum. These include products like pie plates and other kitchen containers.

Aluminum foil has key properties that make people appreciate it. One of these properties is that it serves as a barrier to oxygen, light, and bacteria. As a result, people use this material to keep food fresh, lock in moisture, and wrap certain foods for grilling.

Apart from these uses, various industries incorporate aluminum into their processes and packaging. Such markets include the personal care industry, confectionery, automotive, and beverage industries. Industries also use this paper-thin shiny sheet for purposes such as insulation.

Can you Recycle Aluminum Foil?

We can recycle aluminum foil again and again. Recycled aluminum materials are easily reformed and reused to produce other items. Like many homes, businesses and industries use these materials; there’s also a growing concern about the life cycle.

Many materials and products end up in one landfill or the other, thereby contributing to environmental pollution. This is why most eco-conscious consumers and businesses prioritize recycling efforts. To ensure the diversion of waste from landfills, we can all do our bit by recycling aluminum foil. This also includes other aluminum products, such as aluminum trays and cans. 

Does Aluminum Foil Have to be Clean to Recycle?

As much as aluminum foil is recyclable, it comes with a catch - it has to be clean and free of grease. If food waste or residues are stuck to it, other recyclables can get contaminated. So, before tossing it into the recycling curbside bin, make sure you’ve cleaned it.

Since places like homes and restaurants use aluminum foil for packaging, it is advisable to clean any food residue properly. This critical step will prevent recycling contamination from aluminum foil waste, ensure they accept aluminum foil, and make it easy for recyclers to create new products. 

How to Recycle Aluminum Foil

There are various innovative ways of using the foil. There are two main ways of diverting aluminum foil from landfills. The first is reusing, and the second is recycling. So, before you decide to recycle, why not try out reusing it?

Reusing Aluminum Foil 

Recycling aluminum foil
Photo by Lum3n from Pexels

Finding innovative ways to reuse aluminum foil helps to reduce waste. Before tossing the foils into your recycling bins, we’ve highlighted some reuse ideas below:

  • Scrubbing pots and pans: Did you know you can form your used aluminum foil into a ball and use it as a scrubbing item? You’ll be able to get most of those tough stains out of your metal pots and trays. Just throw in baking soda and water, and it’ll solve the problem of tough spots.
  • Polishing surfaces: You can also polish certain surfaces with combined pieces of aluminum foil. Also, it works well for scraping the rust off scissors to revive the blades.
  • Lining a baking tray: If your aluminum foil is not in terrible shape, you can still flatten it out and reuse it as a baking sheet liner.

Recycling Aluminum Foil

As much as aluminum foil is 100% recyclable, there’s no guarantee that all recycling centers will accept it. However, one of the best recycling facts about aluminum is that we can recycle it infinitely. This saves a ton of energy producers otherwise channel into creating virgin products. 

Sometimes, although not always, your local curbside recycling program will take your aluminum foil. However, you do need to check, as regular curbside recycling programs may not have the technology to process soiled foil and smelt the metal. 

Process for recycling aluminum foil

  • First, clean the foil by rinsing and wiping grease and all other residues. Ensure it’s dry and not contaminated with food. This prepares the foil for recycling. 
  • If mixed with other items, separate the foil from other materials. 
  • Scrunch up the clean and dry product into a ball. If you have several rolls, combine them. This helps ensure the light material used to make foil gets processed mechanically rather than blown or skimmed off into waste during the recycling process.
  • Next, find out if your local recycling programs collect aluminum foil for recycling. Depending on your location, you can drop it off in the appropriate recycling bin or find drop-off centers. 
  • All recyclables are collected and taken to a materials recovery or recycling facility. Here, the workers sort out the trays, foils, and cans. Afterward, they send them to recycling centers and manufacturers, where the workers process and convert the foils into new products.

Whereas foil is made from the same material as soda cans or aluminum cans, these may be processed separately. And like most recycled materials, the answer to what can be taken by your local recycling program can vary from city to city. 

Why You Should Recycle Aluminum Foil

Why recycle aluminum
Photo by Oscar Söderlund on Unsplash

About 75% of aluminum that has been produced is still present today and used productively4. You can imagine the amount of resources that the world has preserved due to this. Recycling aluminum is a good step for various reasons. Below are some of the reasons you should start recycling:

Saves energy

Recycling is an environmentally-friendly option that allows us to save energy that would otherwise be channeled into making items from scratch. 

Reduces waste

If not reused or recycled, the foil will most likely end up in landfills. This significantly contributes to pollution.

Conserves natural resources

Recycling aluminum reduces the demand for constantly extracting raw material from the earth. 

The Origin of Aluminum Foil And Global Market

Aluminum is one of the earth’s most abundant metals. It is the third most prominent element in the earth’s crust1. Globally, its production keeps steadily increasing. The output levels reached around 132.3 million tons in 20192.

Most of the aluminum produced in the world comes from China. The nation produced 35.8 million metric tons just in 20193. With this massive production comes various uses in several industries and households. We have foils, aluminum cans, trays, and other containers. 

We can trace the origins of the versatile aluminum foil over a hundred years ago. This material was first used in packaging in 1911. It became a replacement for tin foil. The Tobler factory in Switzerland pioneered the commercial usage of aluminum foil in food wrapping. They used it to package their chocolate bars, Toblerone. Around the 1960s, various unique ways of using the foil began to spring up. 

Conclusion

Aluminum is widely recycled. Unlike some materials, they can be recycled indefinitely. Recycling presents environmental benefits such as conserving resources and minimizing waste. However, you can always consider the many innovative ways to reuse aluminum foils before recycling. 

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1

Stahl, T., Falk, S., Taschan, H., Boschek, B., & Brunn, H. (2018). Evaluation of human exposure to aluminum from food and food contact materials. European Food Research and Technology, 244(12), 2077-2084.

2

Zeng, H., Lyu, F., Sun, W., Zhang, H., Wang, L., & Wang, Y. (2020). Progress on the Industrial Applications of Red Mud with a Focus on China. Minerals, 10(9), 773.

3

Statista. (n.d.). Aluminum production worldwide in 2019, by region

4

European Aluminum Foil Association. (n.d.). Recycling & Recovery of Aluminum Foil Packaging

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Photo by Julia Maior on Unsplash
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